Stone High’s football team has been in the midst of its best run in nearly two decades, and yet the Tomcats dominated headlines most of the week for an entirely different reason.
Early in the week the NAACP began investigating an allegation that several Stone High students put a noose around a black classmate’s neck. One of the students involved in the incident was subsequently kicked off the football team.
As the investigation continued, the Tomcats still had to prepare for Friday night’s game at A.L. May Memorial Stadium against a dangerous Region 4-5A foe in Long Beach.
The Tomcats opened an early lead, forcing four turnovers in the first half, but had to hold on late to claim a 35-34 victory.
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The win not only gives Stone (8-2, 5-1) its first eight-win season in 20 years, but the Tomcats will travel to Hattiesburg next Friday to play for their first region title in two decades.
“Hats off to Long Beach. They played a heckuva game,” SHS coach John Feaster said. “It was a very tough week but we can’t make any excuses.
“The kids are resilient. I’m very proud of the way they came together in the midst of everything.”
Feaster acknowledged the investigation and the continuous media coverage and various rallies in the community were distractions.
“I’m so proud of them, and the way they came together,” he said. “We have to do the best we can to move forward.”
Stone led 14-0 early on thanks to a 4-yard run by Terrion Avery and a 14-yard pass-and-catch from Preston Stringer to Nick Brown.
Cade Crosby scored the only Long Beach (2-9, 0-6) touchdown of the first half on a 1-yard run with 2:06 remaining.
Both teams traded scores in the final two quarters. Avery broke free for a 70-yard run and then Crosby connected with Jervey Foxworth for a 25-yard score.
LBHS pulled within one, 21-20 on a 10-yard pass from Crosby to Mathew Cropper. Avery scored on a 4-yard run, his third touchdown of the night, to push Stone’s lead back out to 28-20 with 10:49 remaining.
After Crosby scored on a 4-yard run of his own, Stone’s R’Tarriun Johnson scored on a 14-yard reverse to stretch Stone’s lead back out to 25-26.
Long Beach’s final touchdown came on an 80-yard touchdown strike from Crosby to Cropper.
“I felt like our miscues in the first half really held us back,” LBHS coach Forrest Williams said of the team’s three interceptions and lost fumble. “But I thought our defense did a great job keeping us in the game even with all the turnovers.”
Avery finished with 235 yards and three touchdowns rushing. Johnson also pulled down his fourth interception of the season for SHS.
Stone will visit Hattiesburg next Friday. Long Beach will end its season at home against West Harrison.